I got a call on my radio talk show in Austin the other night from a Dave who was outraged that I had stated that Terri Schiavo was being murdered in the cruelest fashion imaginable and no one in any branch of government was doing anything to stop it. Dave inferred that I was saying he, too, had murdered his own brain-damaged brother a few years earlier.
And Dave, with a great deal of venom, charged that those of us who have argued it’s our moral responsibility to save Terri Schiavo’s life are “self-righteous right-wing Christians who want to force their morality on everyone else.”
Of course, it was not my intent to judge everyone who has been in this very difficult position of having to make an agonizing decision about the welfare of a loved one on the fringes of life.
However, the diatribes I have heard from Dave and other starvation advocates raise four key observations. These four points are crucial to the shared consciousness of a civilized society and yet are amazingly absent from a large segment of our supposedly educated society.
First, the fact that ethical discussions in the crucible of a community’s life seem to threaten some people who feel personally attacked is not evidence against such discourse, but is evidence that such discourse is vitally relevant and needed.
In light of Dave’s call and other like it, I must ask, are we really at the moral (or amoral) point in this country that to raise critical ethical questions means one is a judgmental, “self-righteous, right-wing Christian”? I would love to hear what Socrates or Plato – neither of whom were self-righteous, right-wing or Christian – would have to say concerning such an assertion about a moral discussion in a community’s marketplace of ideas.
If one disagrees with a suggested moral principle, then he should enter the discourse. But why would he act as if the discourse is a personal attack? If the discussion makes you feel guilty, then perhaps the debate is an opportunity for you to work through the issue to a more confident conclusion. Then you can decide either that your position has been correct and that there is nothing for you to feel defensive about, or that you were wrong so that you can correct or make amends for your wrong and absolve your guilt. Either way, you have benefited rather than been harmed by the debate.
If you avoid or shut off moral discourse at the very points that it most intimately touches your life, you will suffer fissures in your character that will lead to moral bankruptcy and an incongruous life. And if we as a society cannot discuss the moral aspects of our public life and law together because some of us feel attacked or judged, then we as a community will become morally depraved, each of us doing as he will to those who are weaker and more innocent than himself.
Second, the tendency of our emotions to cloud our objectivity, thinking and judgment is the very reason that clear, concrete moral principles are needed.
Ethical norms are essential is to guide us precisely when life forces personal decisions upon us that elicit emotions and desires that are too strong for us to be able to think rationally and objectively.
Ethical commitments made prior to life’s crises enable us to act with clarity when our hearts are batted back and forth in the middle of a storm. If we avoid, as Dave would seem to suggest, discussing what our ethical guidelines should be merely because the discussion causes us too much pain, in what condition will we be the next time we are faced with an actual life decision relevant to those moral norms?
This is why moral judgments must be evaluated and made by our society regardless of the strong emotions and reactions elicited from some by an ethical discussion or crisis. If we have thought through and committed ourselves to clear moral guidelines prior to life’s inevitable crises, then making the right decisions in the middle of life’s storms, though not easy, can be done with great moral clarity and emotional peace.
Third, criminal and civil laws exist precisely because not all persons have good will or loving intent toward their neighbors. And protective service agencies for children, the elderly and the disabled exist in the states precisely because not all persons have good will or loving intent toward their own families.
You see, if everyone had love and compassion, we would not need laws – or protective agencies. But millions of women, children, elderly and disabled are abused each year by their own family members. Just because your family has human decency and love tells you nothing about the facts in the Schiavo case.
If it should just be left up to the family rather than the legislature, the courts or the justice system, then this year tens of thousands of children, wives, disabled and elderly would be financially exploited, raped, physically abused, medically or physically neglected even until death – at times to gain their estates – or killed by members of their families.
The idea that Michael Schiavo should be left to do to Terri whatever he wishes without review by legal authorities reflects either an ultimate stupidity or a reprehensible lack of compassion and humanity for the weak and disabled among us.
Fourth, decent societies are based on the fact that there is a higher law than their own legal code, which is subject to judgment by that higher law.
Some secularists go berserk at the mention of a higher moral or natural law. But any time they sit in judgment of particular laws or justice system, saying a given law is good or bad, they themselves are judging the laws of the land by a higher law.
Anyone who truly rejects higher law could never make any appraisal of a legal or justice system one way or the other. For the only alternative to higher law is positive law, which asserts that laws are neither good nor bad, that they have their authority merely based on the fact that some sovereign used his authority to institute them.
Both in the Declaration of Independence’s acknowledgement “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and in the Bill of Rights, the founders of this nation affirmed that our rights, including the right to life and the right not to have ones life removed without proper legal and judicial review, are inherent. As such, they precede and stand above and independent of man’s laws. It is not the state that grants the right to life, and no state or criminal or judicial system can remove that right from an innocent, and can do so in the case even of a guilty person only after adequate legal and judicial review.
This is exactly what is in question regarding Terri Schiavo and, due to the fascism of the left, in many more cases that are certain to follow in which a life is to be terminated merely because that life is inconvenient to others. It is legitimate to argue the facts in this particular case, but this is precisely what concerns those who question the decisions in the Schiavo case: The facts are not being reviewed at all.
To argue that a review of the facts is not appropriate, that Michael Schiavo should have been allowed to starve Terri to death without any questioning by legal and judicial review, is to fail abysmally to understand our system of government, our Constitution and the very nature of human rights upon which this nation was founded.
Don Crawford is host of the “Flipside” radio talk show.